Karin Meurk Harvey joined Vodafone via ReConnect, our recruitment programme targeting returners – people looking to return to work after a career break. She talks about what it was like coming back to work, the similarities between managing a family and managing a team, and why she’s passionate about encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers.
Karin, what was returning to work like for you?
For me, I felt like I’d come home. On my first day, a senior business HR partner came to meet me in the lobby, stayed with me the whole day and made me feel very welcome. I’ve now been at Vodafone for a year and six months, and I feel like I never left the corporate world.
What are some of the advantages of being a returner?
I believe that taking a career break, whether it is to look after your loved ones, or to do something different – like running a consultancy company as I did – really enhances your experience and your character. It helps you to grow, it teaches you a lot. There are many similarities between managing a family and managing a team. You have to be very organised, for one thing. And you quickly learn how to motivate others. And as everybody who has children knows, it for sure teaches you conflict management.
In my case, I took a career break because my personal circumstances changed. I became a single mother, and at the time I had a job where I travelled a lot. I realised things needed to change because I had relatively young children at home. So I decided to leave the corporate world and start my own consultancy business, where I had more flexible working hours and didn’t have to travel. Later, when my children were a bit older, I felt ready to go back to work, and I wanted to work for a big enterprise again.
These days, people are living longer, they have multiple careers, and many are taking breaks in between to care for loved ones or to learn new things. Employers are starting to recognise the value of this diversity of experience.
What’s a typical working day like for you?
No day is the same, that’s what is so exciting with this job. Working closely with sales organisations and customers means that even if my day were planned exactly, business priorities can change things around at a minute’s notice. My days are a mixture of customer activities, stakeholder management, strategy and commercial innovation, and line management responsibilities.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m very outcome based. I work in a global organisation, and that means I have team members working in different locations around the world. As long as people are available and accessible when they need to be, and they deliver what they committed to deliver, it works. My team is customer obsessed with a fast pace and a ‘can do’ attitude.
It’s a two-way street, you have to trust your employees and give them the freedom to do the job you want them to do.
You recently spoke at the kick-off event for this year’s Step into STEM, a Vodafone-supported mentoring programme run by Girls Talk London for girls interested in STEM careers. What drew you to this programme?
I’m passionate about getting more girls into STEM education and STEM professions, and I really like the fact that Vodafone is so active in this area too. Vodafone is a truly global organisation, and many programmes are also run globally – through the ‘Code like a Girl’ programme, this year Vodafone will provide free coding workshops to 1,000 girls across 26 countries. Vodafone is working to support women in every stage of their professional life, and that’s very important to me.
Where do you see your career path taking you, going forward?
I really enjoy what I’m doing at the moment, but I’m also looking forward to the next step when the time is right. There are a lot of exciting opportunities within Vodafone, in the UK and also globally, either in Group or in different Vodafone operating companies around the world.
What advice do you have for other employers keen to know what they can they do to support returners?
It’s important that employers treat returners as equal to their co-workers and colleagues. We are every bit as capable and competent – what matters is that we’re respected and listened to, the same as the people we work with. Just because you’ve taken a break from the corporate world doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your competence or forgotten your experience – rather, you’ve added to it.